Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries
Agronomic research for sustainable farming systems in coastal Queensland

Are you eligible for Breaking Barriers Category

SUMMARY

I help to implement agronomic research at a local scale, bringing the science into the paddock to prove the benefits of new and improved farming practices to growers in their own backyards. My work takes a holistic view of the whole farming system, with the aim of improving the sustainability of a grower’s business both environmentally and economically.

I work with sugarcane growers who are alternating their crops with legumes such as peanuts and soybeans. Rotating crops improves soil health, optimises sugarcane yields and improves their gross margins.

My day-to-day work involves designing field trials, field sampling (soil, plant biomass, soil biology, crop yields, insects), data analysis and report writing. I also organise field days to showcase the work we are doing to the growers and agronomists in our region. Recently I have also been working in the AgTech space, designing field trials using specialised farming spatial software. 

BENEFIT – A description of the benefit of your work to Queensland (max 500 words)

Agriculture is vital to Queensland’s economy and the prosperity of our communities. The total value of our primary-industry commodities is forecast to be $23.54 billion in 2021-22. Queensland’s primary industries export to nearly 200 destinations worldwide. The sector accounts for more than 13 per cent of Queensland’s overseas exports, by value. Our primary industries directly and indirectly employ more than 365 000 people—more than 14 per cent of our workforce.

Although my work touches only a small part of the agriculture sector, it has the potential to have significant impacts for the growers I work with. Also, due where I am located, my work also has the potential to improve water quality for the Great Barrier Reef. Through my work, I am:

  • Helping cane growers be more efficient in their use of fertilisers, herbicides, pesticides, and other soil ameliorants. This minimises farm runoff potentially impacting reef water quality.
  • Educating cane growers about implementing legume rotations in the sugarcane farming system. Legume crops add essential nutrients to the soil, act as a break crop to interrupt life cycles of pests and diseases, increase organic matter in the soil, and improve overall soil health. This benefits the following sugar cane crops, resulting in less fertilisers and chemicals needing to be applied - outcomes that are good for business and good for the environment.
  • Assisting growers to improve their yields through improved agronomic practices. New and improved farming practices result in better quality and quantity of commodities, delivering higher gross margins and more sustainable farm businesses.
  • Acting as a conduit of information and communication between growers in the field and professional specialists such as entomologists, plant breeders, and post-harvest specialists. I am connecting farmers with expert information that can help their business to flourish.
  • Supporting younger growers by facilitating networking opportunities which expose them to different ways of thinking and encourage them to become the next leaders in our industry.

ROLE MODEL – Why do you think you are a good role model for women and girls aspiring to work in STEM? (max 500 words)
I have worked as a STEM professional, as a geologist and an agronomist, in two very male dominated industries — mining and agriculture. In both these fields, I have often been the only female in the meeting; the only female in the room; the only female in the paddock. From remote area field work mapping rock outcrops in the Pilbara, to hand cutting sugarcane biomass samples out of research trials in coastal Queensland; reporting drilling program results to mine management teams and presenting trial results to the Australian Society of Sugarcane Technologists, I’ve been a divergence from the norm, just by being there.

I think one of the most powerful things I can do as a woman working in STEM is to be present, be seen and be heard. It’s important for women and girls to see other women in male dominated fields, not just participating, but advocating for women in all that they do.

I have spoken out multiple times against unsatisfactory situations for women in both the mining and agricultural sectors, which were at the time uncomfortable and challenging situations for me personally. But I knew that by speaking out I was making the path for women who came to these fields in my wake just a little bit easier. I have called out inappropriate entertainment choices at a national conference. I have taken a stand about meetings being held at venues which allow only male memberships. And I initiated a change in the design of women’s hi-vis uniforms so that they actually fit us properly. At the time, I hadn’t expected to come across these issues in a STEM field, and although the women who have gone before me had already brought about huge changes to normalise women working in these fields, there are still more challenges to face. I hope that I can continue to normalise the contribution of women in STEM fields into the future to make the path easier for the next generation of girls and young women coming through.
 
ENGAGEMENT – Describe any STEM promotion or engagement activities that you have undertaken, including both scientific and non-scientific audiences, particularly with women and girls (maximum 500 words)

A large part of my current role is engaging with non-scientists (farmers) and communicating scientific results and concepts to them in a way that is useful and relevant to their farming businesses.

My previous career as a geologist also involved regular engagement with non-scientific audiences, like equipment operators, to help them understand complex geological situations so they could achieve operations targets.

In addition to the engagement work in my career roles, I have also:

  • Participated in a formal mentoring program for high school science students with interests in science careers.
  • Assisted in running Queensland Minerals and Energy Academy programs. QMEA is a highly successful program placing students onto pathways into the resources sector and other STEM industries.
  • Been the Moranbah Cub Scout leader for 4 years, where I worked to ignite my cub scouts’ interest in all things science by starting up rock and insect collections (all scientifically labelled), doing copious messy scientific experiments, and engineering bow and arrow machines and catapults.
  • Supervised, trained and mentored multiple graduate geologists
  • Represented DAF to promote careers in Agricultural Science at local high school careers fairs.

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